PhD Archaeology student working on the Broxmouth Project at Bradford University. I study the later prehistoric landscape of south-east Scotland utilising GIS and phenomenology methods.

Into the Afternoon…

It is almost time to go home, and I have found something else to do! I finished reassessing my data (for now) and am now writing a new chapter, which I only decided to do about a month ago.  But fear not! Most of the groundwork is done and it is now a case of bringing it all together under one heading.  Although I am studying the wider landscape of Broxmouth, I am also incorporating detailed site analysis into this.  How does this work I hear you ask? Well, I’m still not sure! There are certain aspects of a site assemblage that can tell you about the wider landscape – the pollen and charcoal evidence for example can tell us about plants grown in the area but can also tell us if crops were processed on site and masses of charcoal can indicate in situ burning.  I am not an expert in any of these fields so needless to say I am making use of published reports! However we unfortunately don’t have evidence for this at our site so I am examining the sequence of ditch deposits and episodes of recutting and maintenance.  Still don’t get it? Well  there are formulas out there for working out how many man hours it would have taken to dig out a ditch and whilst we can never know the exact number of people or days, we can compare this relatively to other sites.  For example at Broxmouth, there is evidence to suggest that some parts of the ditch only reached 1.5m deep whereas near the south west entrance, the ditches reached 3m deep.  This suggests the extra material was used to heighten the ramparts and combined with the rather impressive entrance structures, this suggests that there was a deliberate attempt to monumentalise the entrance.  This raises questions over how many people would have been required to do this, as well as the amount of wood to create the entrance structures.  Examining the nature of the ditch deposits also reveals whether maintenance was a regular thing or more infrequent.  Consequently, one can then speculate over the function of the site during a particular episode of its biography.  After all, this site wasa magnet for activity over a thousand years and did not serve just one function during this time.


So all of this is being compared to other excavated sites to look at resource use and relative frequency of creation and maintenance at these sites.  An added dimension is the visual impact these sites would have had and not just the finished product, but the spectacle of seeing so many people working at a site.  So needless to say, lots to think about! And I am running out of words…


The project will be published as a monograph  but all of this is not intended to be an end to this work.  I hope that people will utilise the archive to carry out their own research and maybe prove (or disprove) some of my theories! The archive will be preserved for future generations to explore and utilise in their own way and it will be a valuable research resource.  Archaeology doesn’t stop once the trowel is put down and it is important to disseminate archaeology whether its a published report or an online resource so that people can access and enjoy their heritage and so fellow archaeologists in the future can utilise it for their research.  Working on a post-excavation project has made me appreciate the process and hard work that continues even after digging tools are downed, although I am itching to get back out in the field again!

Lunch eaten… More PhD stuff!

Unfortunately the camera has died on me, I’m an idiot for forgetting the charger so no more pictures or videos :(.  So here is a bit of improvisation instead…

This is a digitised version of Broxmouth, the excavation archive I am working on.  There were three entrances, two visible on cropmarks but a third was discovered in the west, having been blocked up after a short period of use.  Seven houses were identified in the interior however there are the remains of several structures both underlying and overlying the inner ditch in the west.  There are also structures overying the infilled south-west entrance ditches as well as more ephemeral postholes, pits etc scattered between the houses.  There is also a cemetery to the north containing ten individuals to nine graves.  This is unusual for an Iron Age site and it was found by accident when a trench was initially put on the north side to investigate the ditches on that side.  The project is currently awaiting radiocarbon dates to help flesh out the stratigraphic sequence of the site but we have occupation evidence tentatively going back to the early Iron Age, if not the late Bronze Age and the latest date we have so far is post 400AD which shows this site has a long history!


Back to my actual day… In typical fashion I have moved onto something slightly different.  It is quite easy when you are this close to handing in for PhD fatigue to set in so to prevent too much procrastination and boredom, I am currently re-assessing my area size analysis.  I have a specific study area in East Lothian to investigate the later prehistoric settlement in the area, broadly contemporary with Broxmouth.  I measured all the internal areas of the enclosed sites (note: I don’t believe in the hillfort/enclosure division, not in this particular area!) and analysed the varying sizes according to their shape and number of ditches to see if there are any notable patterns.  Right now I am pondering over whether large single ditched enclosed sites could be comparable to the Wessex examples.  The Wessex Hillforts Project found that large, single ditched sites tended to be devoid of internal features (seen from geophysical surveys) therefore may have been meeting places or ceremonial sites as opposed to settlements.  However care has to be taken in comparing two wildly disparate geopraphical areas, and also the Wessex examples are several hectares in size.  My sites are no larger than a hectare (with the exeption of Traprain Law).  However, it could be a useful analogy!

The beginning of the day…


Just shot a video of the office I work in (above) and then its on to the real work! I am currently making changes to some of my chapters which is involving redoing images and carrying out new analyses in GIS.  For those of you who don’t know what GIS is, it stands for Geographical Information Systems and you can manipulate data to display it spatially.  So for example, I am creating maps of old routeways through East Lothian and how these correspond to the archaeological evidence.  Is it possible that these routes were in existence prior to the Medieval period? Where they are best preserved, they traverse the Uplands (in this case, the Lammermuirs), which is almost devoid of later prehistoric settlement evidence.

As you can see, there seems to be an interesting correlation between the routeways and early prehistoric monuments.  The darker areas indicate the higher ground where most of the sites survive.  Do the routeways simply pass by these monuments because they are ‘markers’ or is it because these are familiar routes that have been traversed over for thousands of years? I am still deciding!

The sites have been plotted using CANMORE which is the public online database run by the RCAHMS and has been an invaluable resource for my PhD.  CANMORE give accurate grid references for these sites however to put them into a GIS, these figures have to be converted into eastings and northings.  These are also based on the same OS grid system but are six figure grid references.  So for example, a site in my are might have the grid reference NT123 345.  To convert that into eastings and northings, it would be 312300 634500.  Each grid square has numbers preceding it, in this case 3 and 6, and then the appropriate number of ‘0s’ are added to make it six-figure.

I’ll let you know how it goes later!

(Early routeways based on Roy’s Military Survey Map (1747-1755) and

Graham, A. 1951 An old road in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 83: 198-206

Graham, A. 1962 More old roads in the Lammermuirs Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 93: 217-35

A Day in the Life of… a PhD Student!

Hi folks!

There are all kinds of contributors to the day of arch and I feel extremely proud to be one of them.  This is just an introduction to me and setting the scene for what I will actually be doing tomorrow.  My name is Rachael Reader and I am currently writing up my PhD thesis, hopefully handing in within the next three months.  My interest in archaeology began when I was eight (no, really!) when I was introduced to Time Team.  It seems a little cliched, but it is the God honest truth! My parents were more than happy to fuel my interest and let me dig up the back garden of my house in a little town, just outside of Barnsley (my best find to date is a 1980s ten pence piece…).  My parents found out where digs were happening and took me along to them, including one in York where I learnt the real truth about archaeology.  I had an illuminating conversation with someone working in the museum gardens who told me that archaeology was poorly paid, nothing like Time Team and definitely nothing like Indiana Jones (which meant little to me as even to this day, as I have still not seen the films!).  I asked the archaeologist why they still did it and they replied simply “because I love it”.  The enthusiasm he had, even when describing the negatives, sealed it for me and off I went to university to pursue my career.  I studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Birmingham University before doing my Masters at Cardiff, where I developed my current research interests in the later prehistoric period and particularly, the landscape approach to archaeology.

Whilst writing my Masters thesis I was pondering over what to do next.  I had spent several weeks here and there, excavating with the University but also community digs, including SHARP at Sedgeford in Norfolk.  I loved digging but had yet to know how commercial archaeology worked, so I began putting my CV together and waiting for jobs to come up at units.  However my supervisor directed me to an advert for a PhD position, at Bradford University and it involved two of my favourite things: Iron Age stuff and landscape! I could not resist and I eagerly put together my application, was offered an interview and ultimately the position, which I was thrilled to accept.  I began my current position in October 2008 and I feel a little sad that I am beginning to wind down and *gulp* hand in.